This week, cover artist and illustrator extraordinaire Michael Paraskevas shares his fondest Christmas memories, love for his wonderfully talented and warmhearted mother, Betty, as well as a recent joy in his life.
The holiday season is filled with nostalgia—what’s your favorite Christmastime memory?
I remember one Christmas about 20 years ago. My mother Betty loved this time of year. She didn’t really like getting gifts. She liked buying them for all of us, so we, (my father, my twin sister, and myself) usually ended up with tons of sweaters, toys and gizmos to last a lifetime. My mother always bought me toys. Even as an adult. She knew I loved them. I still have them. Toy soldiers, wind-ups, Steiff bears, toy cars…you name it she got it for me.
One of the little toys is sitting under our tree this year. Well, Betty and I took our usual ride on Christmas Eve afternoon to have lunch. We usually ended up in East Hampton. We stopped for a bowl of soup on Newtown Lane and walked around the corner to the Polo Store. Kyle, a clerk who everyone knew, was working there. So, I walked in with Betty, I always called her “Betty,” and I shouted, “Hey, Kyle. Merry Christmas!” Kyle laughed and smiled and said he’d be with us in a minute, after he took care of a customer that was standing in front of him. The man turned around to see who the loud- mouth was that interrupted his shopping on Christmas Eve. He was Steven Spielberg with Kate Capshaw!
I looked at Mr. Spielberg and was just so shocked it was he. What was I going to say to the man that directed THE greatest movie of all time… Jaws?
My God, I thought, it’s HIM. Here’s my big chance to say something clever. You know what I said? I said, “Oh. It’s you.” I turned around and looked at sweaters. My mother laughed.
Then we bumped into Billy Joel. This was before he bought a painting from me. He was shopping with Christie Brinkley and they had a bundle of presents in many shopping bags. I didn’t say anything to him either. I should have, but at least I got to talk to him years later when he came to my gallery show. He’s a very nice guy.
I have a long list of people I should have said something to. I once walked past Bob Fosse. He was hacking his way down the street into a bookstore in Westhampton Beach. He was dressed in his signature black pants, black boots, black shirt. He coughed and coughed. I wanted to tell him how much I loved All That Jazz. I didn’t.
Anyway…I seem to have strayed from the subject. I loved my mom. We worked on 23 books together—all of them a joy to create. We laughed and complained about all the big publishers and some of the people we dealt with over the years. The arts are a strange business and if you don’t keep your wits about you…well, it can really get you down. We had each other and we told a lot of people off. We gave each other encouragement over the years. I’m a better writer now because of my work with Betty. I miss her every day, but especially at Christmas since she loved decorating the house and shopping for us.
One year my dad and I gave her a Junior Kroll neon sign we had made up at a local sign company. She was stunned. It’s still hanging here. Junior Kroll was one of her greatest books and projects. Junior’s story poems were written with love and feeling and were very close to her heart. Like I said, I miss her voice.
What would you ask for if you were writing a letter to Santa?
He’s much too busy to bother with the likes of me. I’m not even sure if I’ve been good all year. I have everything I want. I got married this year so that’s more than enough for me for the rest of my life to be thankful for.